A cleaner Fox River

Environmental groups backing proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule

A group of paddle boaters cruise on the Fox River from Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles.
A group of paddle boaters cruise on the Fox River from Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles.

Local environmental groups believe a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule to close the loopholes in the Clean Water Act ultimately will lead to a cleaner Fox River.

“It will clear up misunderstandings about what the Clean Water Act is designed to protect,” said Cindy Skrukrud, chairman of the board of directors for the Fox River Study Group, a coalition of different groups, such as the Friends of the Fox River, Sierra Club and Fox River Ecosystem Partnership, working together to assess water quality in the Fox River watershed.

“It is very important that we protect headwater streams and wetlands that are kind of the capillaries to our arteries and veins of water like the Fox River,” Skrukrud added. “You need to protect those capillaries if you are going to have clean water downstream.”

The federal Clean Water Act originally was passed in 1972.

The rule would make clear that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have the authority and responsibility to protect smaller bodies of water from harmful pollution.

In September 2013, the EPA first announced the proposed rule, which would restore Clean Water Act protections to waterways throughout Illinois and across the country. The public is invited to comment on the proposed rule online through July 21 as part of a public comment period.

The administrative rule could be finalized later this year. Environment Illinois, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, has been working to build public support for the new rule.

“This is a campaign that we have worked on for many years,” said Lisa Nikodem, campaign director with Environment Illinois. “We wholeheartedly want the EPA to take this action and finally restore clean water protection to all of our waterways across the state.”

The group is attempting to collect 14,000 public comments this summer in favor of the new rule.

Gary Swick, president of the board of directors for the Friends of the Fox River, also welcomed the initiative, especially given the additional pressures being put on streams that feed into the Fox River.

“Any initiative that wants to manage the watershed as a watershed as opposed to just the main stem of the river makes much more sense,” Swick said. “The water quality in the Fox River had been pretty stable since the Clean Water Act was passed up until about the year 2000. But now what’s changing is there is more and more pressure on these tributaries, or streams. They are called upon to handle a lot of stormwater runoff, and the stormwater runoff is a problem both in quantity and quality.”

Brook McDonald, president and chief executive officer of The Conservation Foundation, echoed those concerns. The Conservation Foundation’s mission includes protecting watersheds such as Tyler Creek and Blackberry Creek in Kane County, which feed into the Fox River.

“You’ve got these little creeks flowing through subdivisions and newly developed areas, and if you don’t deal with the issue of runoff in particular, then you’ve got water that doesn’t meet water quality standards in the small streams, and it all flows to the main stem,” McDonald said.

McDonald said that while the Fox River has become cleaner over the past several decades, “If you are not looking at where the water is coming from, then you are ignoring the source of the problem.”

Unlike pollution that comes from a factory or a sewage treatment plant, McDonald said it is harder to regulate “nonpoint source pollution.”

“That is primarily storm water runoff,” McDonald said. “Storm water runoff has now become the No. 1 water pollution problem in our waterways. And when you change the land use in a waterway from agriculture to urban, the evidence is that urban runoff is really a problem for the water quality of our streams. It’s the urbanization of the land that’s causing the problem.”

While the new rule wouldn’t prevent the waterways from being developed, McDonald said it would make sure that when they are developed, “that the stormwater runoff from the new development is managed and cleaned in a way that protects the stream.”

Beyond the new rule, McDonald said there are things that people can do on their own to preserve the Fox River. The Conservation Foundation has published a guide called, “A Citizen’s Guide to Preserving the Fox River.”

“That’s why we did the booklet and website www.preservethefox.org, because people were constantly saying, ‘I love the Fox River. I know I can only play a small part. What can I do?' "

Information about the proposed rule is available at www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations.

Know more

Information about a proposed rule to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act is available at www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations.

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